Cecil County Chatter: Judges, Whigs and Media Wars

August 8, 2011

Judge Keith Baynes Launches Campaign Fundraiser Season

Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Keith Baynes (R), who won a surprise appointment to a vacant court seat late last December by Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley, launched the local campaign fundraiser season on Saturday with a bipartisan, well-attended pig roast at his Calvert home.

Baynes has to defend the court seat in the 2012 election and he has created a campaign finance committee and a website, www.keepjudgebaynes.org to support his campaign. Baynes was a longtime assistant States’s Attorney prosecuting criminal cases and also a municipal lawyer practicing civil law on behalf of several towns in the county and the county Board of Appeals on zoning issues.

The selection of the Republican Baynes by a Democratic governor for the vacant court seat was widely seen as recognition that Baynes is highly respected in the legal community without regard to party affiliation. At his fundraiser, the crowd of about 200 people was a mix of recognizable Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

Among the attendees were former state Del. Dick Sossi (R-36), who is now the Kent Island office director for U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-1); Chris Sutton, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for county Sheriff in the last two elections; and several Democratic lawyers who are currently seeking a gubernatorial appointment to another vacant seat on the Cecil County Circuit Court.

Also attending were Republican Cecil County Commissioners Tari Moore (2nd Dist) and Robert Hodge (5th Dist) and North East mayor Bob McKnight, a Democrat who is expected to run for county executive in 2012. (Moore was introduced as a county executive candidate at the fundraiser and she confirmed to Cecil Times that she has decided to run as a Republican for the post.)

The low-key Baynes addressed the crowd, saying that as a ‘newcomer’ to political campaigning and a sitting judge, he had to advise citizens that, unlike regular politicians, he cannot “promise to cut your taxes.” But, he promised, he would “keep politics out of the courtroom” and judge cases based on facts and the law, a statement that drew cheers and applause from the crowd.

Meanwhile, the last remaining Cecil County Circuit Court judge vacancy may be filled in September, according to some applicants for the post. The five lawyers currently on the ‘list’ of potential appointees met with the governor last week, trooping in and out of the governor’s office for personal interviews. Some of the candidates said the governor indicated his timetable for the next appointment would be September, meaning that whoever gets the appointment would have to defend the seat in the 2012 election.

That would mean that there would be two judge seats on the ballot—the Baynes seat and the newcomer seat. Judges run on a non-partisan basis, with their names listed on both the Democratic and Republican primary ballots, with the top vote getters in the primaries going on to the general election. With two seats at stake, there could be a free-for-all in the general election.

Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36), who did not apply for an appointment to the vacant court seat, is widely expected to run in the 2012 election for one of the court seats that will be on the ballot. However, if there are two seats on the ballot, he would not have to declare which seat he was seeking. The top vote-getters in the primaries would be on the general election ballot, with the potential of four candidates appearing on the general election ballot for the two court seats.

Whigs, “Energy” and Cecil County Media

The Cecil Whig proudly declared its 171st anniversary of publication today, which, considering the sorry state of print newspapers and the demise of many print outlets, is indeed an accomplishment to be proud of.

We respect our local print colleagues for their dedication and hard work despite their distant owners’ reluctance to invest in the editorial product and staff. We lament the loss of an extraordinary repository of local history and political knowledge, Terry Peddicord, the former editor who was summarily dismissed when the new then-Australian owners came to town. (The Aussies are now out of the picture, as we understand it, and the various banks, investors, hedge funds and assorted creditor types who bought the financial debt are now in charge of the out-of-state company that owns the Whig.)

The Whig has been limping along with a skeleton staff but an ad we came across on a journalism job website indicates they are looking to add an “entry-level” body—but the ad says a lot about today’s Whig.

“Raring to Go?” the ad headlines. The Whig is seeking an “ENERGETIC” (boldfaced type) reporter—that phrasing usually means young, inexperienced and cheap-to-hire. The ad, with a few typos that would make a traditional type wonder where the copy desk is hiding, also touts the Whig’s uber-trendy commitment to online news, Facebook and Twitter postings. The job also requires video and camera photography skills and suggests an applicant have college newspaper experience.

The Whig has been offering free online access to its news content this summer. Could it be a coincidence that in the summer the paper has two summer interns, so folks might think the extra content of the summer would be worth a subscription in the fall? (After the young ones go back to school and the freebie online access expires…)

The Whig recently announced that a relative newcomer, Jacob Owens, with two years at the paper and a resident of Delaware, had been promoted to the position of news editor. We guess that if they had promoted the veteran, stalwart reporter Cheryl Mattix to a management job it would have taken four people to replace her.

Meanwhile, there is a sub-rosa battle going on before the Cecil County Commissioners between the Whig and its new print rival, The Cecil Guardian, over qualifications for print legal advertising by the county—and the huge amount of advertising dollars at stake. There have been letters from lawyers, documentation from the US Postal Service, several worksession discussions of the Commissioners and legal opinions from the county attorney. The battle so far, including a recent court decision, looks like the Guardian meets state legal standards for publication of county legal ads. But the Whig is not giving up.

Both the Whig and the Guardian’s editorials endorsed 2010 candidates other than the state legislative delegation mentors of the current 3-member majority of the County Commissioners. But that group seems to be more inclined to put their faith, and taxpayers’ money, with the Whig’s advertising.

We have no illusions that the current makeup of the county commissioners would ever consider advertising on The Cecil Times, given our track record of tweaking their foibles and faux pas. And that is just fine with us.

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5 Responses to Cecil County Chatter: Judges, Whigs and Media Wars

  1. Natalie Ricci on August 9, 2011 at 11:04 am

    The changes at the Whig are a sad state of affairs. They have gutted the experienced folks and are looking at numbers on a balance sheet instead of quality content that builds a readership, whether you be print or web-based. Frankly, I think their website is cumbersome and difficult to navigate and understand with the multiple clicks to even get to your desired reading.

    The best thing they could do is rehire and retain experienced personnel and if they want to save money, go back to 3 days a week. Hell, Monday’s paper is usually just AP pickups anyway!

    • Cecil Times on August 9, 2011 at 1:21 pm

      Natalie, It is indeed sad to see what the Whig has become, but it is part of a national pattern of bleeding a news organization dry to make money for corporate owners– in this case, out-of-state hedge funds, etc., who couldn’t find their way to Elkton or Earleville with a guide dog.

      The Whig was never particularly gutsy, with the exception of some of Terry Peddicord’s columns that often ‘told truth to power.’

      Unfortunately, the Whig is increasingly becoming a stenographic service, printing press releases or transcribing audio tapes without doing substantive, independent reporting or research. Some of that is the lack of time allowed to the reporters and some of it is the culture of complacency, fear, and don’t-offend-the-advertisers that has been imposed from afar.

  2. Tidewater on August 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    How can the election for judges be non-partisan when “independents” whose taxes help support the election are prohibited from voting in either primary?

    New boss same as the old boss.

    • Michael W. Dawson on August 10, 2011 at 6:31 pm

      Registered voters who are not affiliated with either of the two “principal” parties, or who have chosen to be unaffiliated from any party, do have the opportunity to cast ballots for the non-partisan races in the primary election. A non partisan ballot is available for those voters to participate in the selection of members to the Board of Education and for judgeships.

      • Tidewater on August 23, 2011 at 11:03 am

        That’s fair enough.


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